The dust finally settled for Group B with Germany and Portugal progressing to the next phase of European Championship 2012. Favourites, Germany went through by virtue of winning all 3 of their group matches while their victim in that very first match, Portugal joined them after picking up 2 consecutive wins. Nerves were shown last night from all teams and no one could argue that the better team have advanced.
I was completely focused on the Holland v Portugal game so it wouldn’t be right to give my assessment on the other game. From the statistics and comments on twitter, it does seem like a very entertaining game. Only one change was an enforced change as Lars Bender came in for Jerome Boateng who was suspended. Little would Loew know that this change would be the decisive one.
Nicklas Bendtner continued his fine showing at this championship with another assist but just could help his team find that win that would take them through. So far the only team with 3 wins, Germany are already matching up to their favourites tag. A meeting against Greece is on the offing next and one imagines that Germany should reach the semi finals at least.
As for the game that I watches, it turned out to be quite a spectacle. Bert van Marwijk went on the offensive and picked Hunterlaar and Van der Vaart to start with Van Bommel and Afellay dropping to the bench. They were bright from the onset, pestering and pressuring Portugal into surrendering possession almost as immediately as they got it. A Barca/Bilbao type of pressing, if you like. It worked and the Dutch got their just reward for their effort.
Robben cutting in from the right once again but instead of shooting, he elected to pass for VdV in space. A left footed shot later and the ball was nestling snugly in the bottom corner of Patricio’s goal. Game on and halfway through their objective of a 2 goal win. A scenario which had they achieved, would see them go through as Germany won the other match. Yet, that was as good as it got for the Dutch.
They retreated into the shell after that goal and for the 79 minutes that proceeded after the opening goal, Portugal were very much the side on top. With only De Jong as the sole holding midfield and VdV not as aware in defending as he is in attacking, the midfield left gaping holes and Portugal capitalised on that. The trio of Veloso, Pereira and Moutinho quickly gained control of the midfield and ran rings around the sole Man City player holding the fort.
Willems was struggling to deal with the trickery of Nani on the left hand side of the Dutch and the damage came from there. Running behind the line, Ronaldo left Van der Wiel for dead with Postiga dragging both centre backs away and suddenly the Real Madrid man was left one on one against Stekelenburg. Unlike against Denmark, Ronaldo wasn’t going to let this one go to waste. The same happened for the winner, another pass from Nani and his captain duly delivered.
For a team that is disorganised at defending, trying to play with 3 men at the back when they were struggling with 4 players is close to suicidal tactic. Yet, they have to chase the game and was prepared to risk one of their defensive player. However, van Marwijk failed to shore up the midfield area to combat their defensive frailty and paid for it.
When the front two of Hunterlaar and van Persie were struggling, it’s strange for the coach not to take another gamble and introduced the relatively unknown Luuk De Jong or Luciano Narsingh to just give Portugal something extra to think about. Neither got off the bench at all in the entire championship and perhaps, that lack of surprise has made Holland a much easier team to defend against.
You would find only Czech fans who think that their side stand a chance against Portugal in the knockout phase and I’m not one of them. Bento has got a solid defensive unit despite the absence of Carvalho with an almost workmanlike midfield that possesses some flair in them. A lot is still dependent on Ronaldo but with Nani working up a storm on the other flank, it makes it much tougher for opposition to block both sides off at the same time. Semi final beckons for the Iberian country.
On to tonight’s games as Group C plays their penultimate fixtures. The permutations are rather complicated. If Spain and Croatia play out a 1-1 draw couple with a 4-0 win or 3-1 win for Italy against Ireland would mean Spain and Italy goes through as the higher placed UEFA coefficient ranked teams. If Spain and Croatia were to draw with scores of 2-2 and above, they will go through, provided Italy’s score is as mentioned. As you can see, it gets really complicated and just like it was in Group A, I rather not think about it until the match starts and score changes.
I also hope it won’t come down to coefficient points because it’s not about how the team did over a period of time because this is the finals. It’s ever only about how they performed over a period of 3 weeks. I don’t think any teams will take a chance with tonight’s fixtures given the importance and based on that it’s hard to see past Spain and Italy wins. Having seen Ronaldo come into life yesterday after a listless first two games, one wonders whether Balotelli will do the same or will he not get that chance even.
Here’s to another set of enjoyable games tonight.